1st Lt. Tom Emonds
Hotel Company, 1968
3rd. Platoon Commander
Was a forester by education, and worked my way through forestry school with a private forest consultant firm. They paid the bills and I ran tree-planting crews, hired college kids to do timber stand improvement, mist blowing, timber cruising and logging. Quit college between my junior and senior year to spend two years hitch-hiking around the world.
Worked for the Austrian Forest Service then hitch-hiked across Asia. Ended up living with a band of nomads and rode camels across Syria and Iraq. Ended up in my first fights for life in the slave markets of Iraq, and escaped aboard a Pilgrim Ship bound for India. Sold my blood, sold liquor licenses to the Moslems, and turned into an outlaw smuggling packages between India and Ceylon.
Ended up broke and sick. Was a bag of bones, but eventually got out of Asia on a banana boat headed for Australia. Landed in Darwin totally broke and in the country illegally stayed for some nine months. First hitch-hiked across the Aussie outback. Ended up living with hobo types in Sydney, then hitch-hiked up to Queensland, and got a job with their Forest Commission. Fought fires and did some real outback type stuff. Later hitchhiked to Victoria and was an Assistant Park Ranger with their National Parks Authority. Finally the Immigration people got on to me, and gave me two days to leave the country. I ended up in New Zealand and talked my way into another classic job. I was a deer culler. A professional hunter. My only task was to kill as many deer, pigs, Chamois, Thar, and goats as I could. Deer were the most important of the animals hunted. I'd shoot anywhere from two to twelve deer a day. For sport the government hunters would run down wild boars and kill them with only a knife.
It was a great period and I made some life long N.Z.friends who would one day come up to visit me in Alaska when I'd work for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and shoot some mighty big moose.
Then one day in the wilds of New Zealand, a helicopter came in to deliver mail, basic foodstuff and ammo. A letter saying I was selected to start smoke jumper training in Oregon was in the mailbag. It was then I had to make a fork in the road type decision. My New Zealand hunting pals told me to stay. My partner said, "Troop you go back to America, you'll end up getting drafted, and have some dumb asshole tell you to go die needlessly in that Vietnam thing". It was 1966. The option I considered other than smoke jumping was to go to New Guinea and hunt crocodiles.
The ice was forming on the edges of the New Zealand Rivers making them very dangerous to cross. So, I ended up in Oregon, as a rookie smokejumper. Then I decided to go back east to finish my last year of forestry school. As spring came the Army sent me my, "come and get your draft physical", letter. At the physical they told me to expect to get drafted on June 7th 67, because I was graduating from college on June 6th. I was all signed up for my second season of smoke jumping. I told them that I didn't mind getting drafted, but could they draft me in September?
Anyway the only way to beat the draft was to join some military service that agreed to let me have a delayed entry date. The marines were the only ones willing to do this. Hence my first good deal. I got to jump the summer of 67 and entered the crotch that fall.
There is no way I would have just gone down and joined the Marine Corps. It took the furry of the sixties, and complete ignorance of anything about Vietnam. It was a blind trust, that the U.S. Government was a good outfit, and must know a hell of a lot more about what they were doing than the college kids with big cars and well-rehearsed opinions.
Well, it ended up being the most interesting of all my life's experiences, even though I really did have a great life. After the war I went back for 25 years of smoke jumping, some 524 smoke jumps, and I built ten log homes.
Most, looking at my lot in life would probably conclude, that I haven’t amounted to a hill of beans. However, I feel like I never did do a days work in my whole damn life. It always was a great adventure, and of all the folks I know I honestly think no one laughed more or ever had more fun with all the strange characters, that I got to hang out with.
I'm presently married to a young South East Asian lady, 30 years younger than myself. We have a great little boy; 18 months old. I guess this is my favorite of all times in life. I thank her each and every day for marrying me, and she is such a sweetheart. She appreciates everything, and we laugh hard every day. In four years of marriage, not one bad day yet.
As far as Platoon Commanders go: Lt. Wayne Halland was the head of the 2nd Platoon when I got there. Lt. C.V. Taylor was the Skipper. Both those guys were good and the troops really respected and liked them. Wayne Halland was a little rock of a guy, tough as a nail and really a marine's marine.
Lt. Encinata was the Plt. Cmdr. of the 3rd herd before I got there. The troops used to tell me how they tried several times to frag him. They really didn't tell me this for quite some time, so I don't think they were trying to tell me a big story or lay out warnings for anything or me like that. It was always a funny story, and the whole platoon roared when they'd tell me the stories. He was gone before I got there, so I really would have liked to meet him, but never did.
S/Sgt. Millsap was my Plt. Sgt. and he was the Plt. Cmdr. just before I showed up. He was certainly the real leader of the Platoon. Sort of a tough, but look out for the guys, old mother hen type. I was just out of the Basic School and was certainly nothing to write home about. In fact I graduated either 3ed or 9th from the bottom of a class of some 300. So I was real doubtful. S/Sgt Millsap was a great molder of officers. For whatever reason he assumed I must have been smart or was at least what the Marine Corps had screened to be an Officer, and he treated me as an officer. I liked and respected him and we sort of ran the platoon together. The troops liked the way we were together, and I think that everyone felt comfortable. It was a very easy on me type situation.
When Sgt. Millsap left, I remember I really felt lonely, and worried a bit about things for a while. But!!! Tom Millsap had trained me well and I actually felt like an officer after two months with him. After a month or so I got another great Plt. Sgt.. S/Sgt. Joe Dean McKnight. He became a very, very good friend of mine and the Platoon was a very at home place to be. He eventually made Sgt. Major.
After Wayne Halland left Lt. Phil Messer took over the 2ed Platoon. Lt. Sam Meale had the 1st. Plt. What few men realized is that both Sam and Phil were All State basketball players during their high school days. Both great, great friends of mine who I treasured each minute with.
When Phil Messer got wounded, Lt. Doug Bergeron took over the 2ed Plt. Lt. Bergeron was killed fairly quickly. A Corporal Watkins took over the 2ed Plt., and I must say he handled that Platoon as well, if not better than any officer I ever met. I took him aside one time and literally begged him to put in for the officer program. If anyone ever should have been an officer it certainly should have been him. Phil Messer came back and took over the 2nd. Plt. after he healed up from his wounds.
Lt. Mike Brock took over the 3rd herd after I left. Then a Lt. Gardener fairly soon after that.
Phil Messer became a Marine Jet Pilot after Vietnam, then stayed in the Reserves, and ended up A full Bird. Mike Brock stayed in and was a Lt. Col about ten years ago, and may have made full bird.
Sam Meale, as you know has had a very successful career with the DEA. When I had returned to be a smokejumper some fed came and asked for a reference for Sam. He was trying to get on with the Alcohol, Tobacco, and firearms folks in 1970. Easy to see how that guy was so successful. He was just smooth and a darned straight shooter.
1st Lt. Brock
Hotel Company, 1968
3rd. Platoon Commander
Michael Van Brock was born to Steven Cleve and Gladys Opel Brock on June 16, 1944 in Idabel, Oklahoma. His parents divorced in 1947. His father took him from his mother and fled to Lakeview, Oregon where he stayed for two years. His mother came to Lakeview and filed a custody suit. The judge determined that his parents would have dual custody of Michael, his mother having custody during the school year and his father in the summer.
Michael attended grade school in Oklahoma and middle school in Dallas, Texas. Michael attended high school in Lakeview, graduating in 1962. He attended Southern Oregon College and graduated in 1967. After graduation the worked in Alaska on a fish processing boat and part time on a scrimp trawler.
He returned to the “lower 48” after five months and moved from Lakeview to Sausalito, California. In March on 1968 he applied to be a Marine Corps officer. He attended Officer Candidate School, The Basic School finishing in November 1968. He married the former Dianne Fieguth November 23 and left for Vietnam in December where he was assigned as a platoon commander Company H, 2Bn, 1st Marines. After his promotion to 1st Lieutenant in July he was assigned as XO of H&S Co, 2nd Bn. Later he was transferred to H&S Co. Sup Bn, 3rd FSR
After his tour in Westpac he was transferred to Camp Jejune, North Carolina where he was the Weapons Platoon commander, Executive Officer, and Company Commander. His next duty assignment was as the Commanding Officer, Marine Detachment on the USS Proteus (AS-19) a sub tender home ported in Guam.
Mike was transferred to Camp Pendleton, California in 1974 and was assigned as the Intelligence Officer for the 7th Marine Regiment. His next assignment was the Defense Intelligence College (DIC) in Washington, D.C. Upon completion of the DIC Mike was assigned to the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) where he worked in the Political/Military Affairs’ Branch. While there Mike was selected to be a briefer at the Canada, UK,US (CANUKUS) Conference and also traveled to the Warsaw Pact countries as part of his duties. Furthermore, he represented DIA on National Intelligence Estimates on matters regarding the Polish crisis.
His next assignment was with the 9th Marine Amphibious Brigade where he was the G-2. After a year in Okinawa, Japan he was selected to work at Headquarters Marine Corps in Washington, D.C. where he was the Marine Corps representative for preparing National Intelligence Estimates for Soviet Warsaw Pact.
His next assignment was as a student at the Defense Management College. Upon graduating he worked as a research, development and acquisition Program Manager for intelligence systems. After his tour as a PM he was transferred to Camp Pendleton where he was became the Commanding Officer, Surveillance Reconnaissance and Intelligence Group (SRIG). Two weeks after taking command the SRIG was deployed to Saudi Arabia for operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm.
Following DS/DS he was assigned as the G-2 (Intelligence Officer) for I Marine Expeditionary Force. There he was selected to be the Joint Intelligence Officer for the Rodney King Riots and later the J-2 for Operation Restore Hope in Somalia.
He retired in 1994 as a Full Colonel. and moved his family to Bend, Oregon where he was the Senior Naval Science Instructor for a NJROTC program at Mountain View High School. During his eleven years as the SNSI the unit earned Honor Unit four times and Distinguished Honor Unit five times. He resigned in 2005 and now serves on two non-profit organizations that help service personnel assimilate to the civilian world after discharge.
Mike and Dianne have been married 51 years. They have two children, Lindsey who works for a local hospital and Casey who is a LtCol in the Marine Corps serving in Marine Special Operations. He and his family are presently in Germany serving in Africa Command. He slated to become a Raider Battalion Commander this summer.
Staff Sgt Tom Milsap
Tom Millsap, born in Arkansas His folks were sharecroppers. He finished school at the 7th grade and worked in the fields until old enough to join the Marine Corps. So, in a nutshell The Marine Corps was his main home, job, way of life; he chose to live. In order to touch the surface of his character and value to the warrior society and to us, those honored to be with him, under fire, and in the most memorable experience of our lives. He retired as a Gunnery Sergeant. Had a wonderful wife named Alice and a little daughter named Nanette. He also had a son who had done something wrong and was in prison, so don't know much about all that, but it was the one thing that troubled him. I remained a grateful friend of Tom's till he died sometime in the 80s of lung cancer. I visited Alice and Nanette a couple of times after Tom passed and they were doing very well.
I have to give the context of, or setting of the particulars of our first meeting, our military service together, and on going relationship. :
I was drafted. I was happy with my civilian job. Somehow, I ended up in the Officer's Selection process. I made it through the selection process, then went on to their six or seven month long "Wonder College". I was either 6th or 9th from the bottom of the pack of some 300 Officers. Immediately after graduating from the "Wonder School, I was picked up and dropped off, and into a crazy Asian War assigned to an Infantry unit, Hotel Company, 2/1, First Mar. Reg. First Mar. Div. So was there we first met. I was meeting the Platoon Commander of the 3rd Platoon of H Company, Staff Sgt. Tom Millsap. He was high energy, had a gruff exterior, but he walked and postured himself as a Marine LEADER who knew what he was, and more importantly what he was doing. Well now, here I was assigned to be his boss in a role I had zero experience in, and in the world, I had just graduated from, I sure did not have much confidence. In the ultimate wisdom Of the Marine Corps society, I was supposed to be this guy's boss??? I expected a total disaster, a running conflict of a rude clash. Certainly, a struggle for leadership. I thought quietly to myself, exactly who the hell the real qualified leader of the 3rd Platoon was. I thought I was seriously and embarrassingly unqualified to be the Platoon Commander, and I knew in my heart. I truly and actually believed I was not packing the gear to be the Actual.
Strangely, Sgt. Millsap was completely different from that which I expected. He was incredibly Marine like. He referred to me always as "Sir' or "Lieutenant”, He mistakenly assumed I was smart, because I was a college graduate, and that the Marine Corps picked me as an Officer, because they saw something in me that the Marine Corps needed. He went around constantly insisting everyone call me Sir, and he himself construed his job was to help me in any possible way to be molded into an effective Officer. At one time I told him Sgt. Millsap, thanks for being such a reminder for the troops to always call me sir, but that really is not that much of a deal to me. He looked at me and said Yes Sir, but this is our Marine Corps and all of us have to operate according to our traditions. Always behind my back he was always complimenting or outright bragging about our Lieutenant to the troops. He was a rough exterior barker at the troops, but always left them with a pat on the back. Subtle affection filled air of a mother hen. I envied his experience and manner. Any time we needed a decision to be made about anything like, where to set up for a night time, Platoon Patrol Base on the march or what-ever I'd always call for, "Poppa Sierra up" I'd always ask his thoughts. What actually transpired was the troops could see the Lieutenant and the Platoon Sergeant liked and respected each other. That obvious reality made everyone in the platoon comfortable, and the platoon really was a sweet place to be lived in. One early experience that sort of turned out to be a good thing was in the first days of my arrival. The Skipper, First Lt. Ceicel Taylor called me up for a meeting. He told me he wanted me to put out an ambush out here somewhere and waved a finger across the vague area he had in mind,
I went back to our little Platoon area and Sgt. Millsap asked me what the Skipper had to say? I told Sgt. Millsap, the Skipper wanted us to put out an ambush out here somewhere? Millsap nodded. Then I said, "Sgt. Millsap I forgot to ask if this is supposed to be a platoon sized ambush or a squad sized ambush. Sgt. Millsap, reeplied, "that would be a squad sized ambush, Sir". Oh! all right, but I also forgot to ask what time we should go out there? Millsap replied, that would be 22:00 hours Sir. OK Sgt. Millsap which squad should go out there with me? That would be Alpha Squad, Squad Sir, but the We Sir?, you're not going out there Sir are you? Generally, the Platoon Commander does not go out with a squad, they stay with the majority of the Platoon, the other two squads. So, for some reason I came back with, well I know that, but I thought maybe I could learn something from the combat vets, you know I've never been in combat, but I'd actually like to learn something out here, like how they operate and all. Introduce me to the Squad Leader, Sgt. Millsap, and I'll tell him he's actually in charge of the patrol and ambush. I'll just be an extra rifle trying to learn something, I’ll never forget the expression on his face, his jaw really did drop and he managed to simply say, "OH!, very good Sir"! He called up the Squad leader introduced us. I told the Squad leader I'll just be an observer with an extra rifle. His name went in one ear and out the other as we agreed where to set up the ambush on the map. We kicked off at 22:00 hours. The Skipper came to our platoon area to talk to me. He was surprised to learn I was out on a squad sized ambush. He was an old Mustang Marine, and he told Sgt. Millsap he had never heard of a Lieutenant going out on a squad sized ambush.
As it worked out the combat vets showed me two important facts of life about war. First, they did not know how to land navigate at night. Second, they simply would go out within sight of where they came from and simply go to sleep. Then in the morning come back to the main encampment and everyone assumed they were out there doing what grunts were supposed to do. The squad leader and I stayed awake all night, but the entire rest of the squad just slept, a habit they just lived by.
When I got back from the ambush Sgt. Millsap asked me how it went. He told me about the Skipper coming by, so totally exhausted, I headed over to talk to the Skipper about what I thought might be going on all over Vietnam. That Skipper listened, and from then on Platoon Commanders were going out on squad sized patrols and ambushes. Since my entire prior life was spent as a Forester, timber cruiser and Smokejumper, I spent a lot of my civilian time traveling across forested ground with a compass, map and ability to pace and come up with valid distances traveled no matter the ground, steep, flat, cluttered..... no matter. The most important of all basic military skill, is knowing exactly where you are, and how to always land navigate to any other spot. All other tactical skills and operations feed off of that. So every patrol was a training exercise in how to land navigate from then on. So with that and calling in mortars or artillery when we were ambushed, and always having the right grid coordinates to get a helicopter med evac in to our wounded out, I began to think I really was the Platoon Commander. There was certainly more to it than all that, but Staff Sgt. Millsap was one thing above all else, An encouragement based helper. Totally for the troops, a hundred percent slanted toward helping and encouraging the troops, and his Officer to actually become a good one; at least an effective one. After two months of working along side this true Marine, he got out of the Bush and left us. But by that time he had built me into a confident, "for the troops", acceptable leader of that Platoon. I was Mighty
S/Sgt. Joe D. McKnight - Platoon Sergeant
Staff Sgt. Joe Dean McKnight
Well over a month after S/Sgt. Millsap left, the next Staff Sgt. in line to be my Platoon Sgt. had a unreasonable fear of tripping booby traps, and flat just would not leave the little Battalion battle town, which was our fairly remote outpost. Beyond the big sand burm and all the barbed wire defenses was what we called, "Indian Country". If you entered Indian country on patrols and trying to find, close with and destroy people out moving around with weapons,
you were very likely to run into the enemy who were also trying to hunt us down. They sniped at us, ambushed us, and attacked us in our platoon patrol bases day and especially at night. So we and the enemy hunted each other. They usually were not really good in a fight against us. However, their best ideas to hurt us was to be trappers rather than hunters. They set incredibly good booby traps. The majority of our casualties were from booby traps. We were taking huge losses from booby traps. It was at times a chore just to move around out there. To say it was dangerous out there beyond the wire, was actually funny.
Young Officers and Staff were obviously faced with a constant, ever dark battle with overactive imaginations, when dealing with negotiation of business out in "Indian Country". You had to somehow temper security with imagination to be able to properly enjoy the fortunes of war and be an aggressive Marine out there hunting in Indian Country. The Officers and Staff of our Company were flat embarrassed to have a Staff Sergeant actually say he had a mental fear, that made him unable to go out beyond the wire. So they shook the tree a bit, and got me another Platoon Sergeant. Actually, the booby trap problem was tended to, a great deal, by the Platoon Sergeant and Platoon Commander of our First Platoon in H Company. Carl King the great Platoon Sergeant, and Sam Meale his great Platoon Commander had worked out an effective defense against booby traps. They used M-16 cleaning rods, as prob sticks, to detect either trip wires or mines set up with trip wires going across the top of holes, covered with sticks, and with either plastic sheeting or cardboard covered with sand. Marines just walking along trails, rice paddy dikes or set in beneath shade would step into the hole, trip the wire spanning across the hole and presto, blow off a leg or set off a dead artillery round set up in a tree to take out an entire squad. Still. you had to develop an effective technique to be really efficient at covering ground probing with a certain manner to find these things before they got tripped.
Carl King told me he met my new Platoon Sergeant who, I was about to meet. He said I think you got a good one Lieutenant, your new Platoon Sergeant. I just met him and the impression and body language he casts off is. "I've got my shit together, how about you? Have you got your shit together".
So when I met him, I immediately felt the same great positive, like-able nature this guy exuded. He was a young Texan, handsome and even looked like Elves Presley.
When I was learning the ropes of war from Sgt. Millsap we were assigned to work with a Vietnamese Platoon. We camped together in a common Platoon Patrol Base. The Vietnamese Lieutenant was a real Officer. Incredibly smart, handsome, and clearly anti-communist. He conducted himself as a General or more accurately, as God. His power was total. He spoke four languages, Vietnamese, Chinese, French, and English. I just could not believe how much of a textbook, powerful leader he was. His troops were totally in fear of him. At that time I had met some pretty impressive Marine Lieutenants and Captains during my selection process and training, but nothing like this guy. After watching him deal with many difficult situations he went out on a Platoon sized patrol, tripped a booby-trap and was killed. At first, I thought, man alive, if a guy that smart, and having his trash together gets taken out; what hope is there for any of us less endowed folks? Then I noticed and shared with Sgt Millsap, that that Lieutenant was so dominant he never trained his people how to operate if he were taken out. No one in that platoon could step up, and use the skills needed to make the unit fight-able, or even survivable. So what I concluded was that, that Officer was not good at ensuring the survival of his platoon. He did not set it all up to keep on going. Impressive to see from a surface perspective, but in real fighting terms he was just too dominant to share the load and make the unit universal, and fight able. We finally had to get those guys sent back to their Company.
It was obvious the troops liked S/Sgt. McKnight, so as we left the battle fort, and we were well out in Indian Country: ....... I went up to Sgt. McKnight, and said to him very quietly, where are we on the map? He looked at the map, and had no idea. So I circled up formed an instant day time Platoon Patrol Base. And said, here is the deal. This is your first day in the bush. Like me, when I got here, I had to be broken in by the kids already here. So, your job # one job is to always, always pay attention, and know where you are. This is my Platoon. You have to watch how I operate, then in a bit this will be our Platoon, and your main role is to be confident and totally able to take my place if ever needed. Then I told him the story of the Vietnamese Ranger Lieutenant. We then went on to have a perfect relationship, where he helped me in so many ways, and the troops adored him. He did not have that beloved rough exterior like Sgt. Millsap, but his manner and style was brother Marine like, and everyone in that platoon loved being in that particular platoon. We had more laughter in our existence out there in in Indian Country; with just day to day stuff on the move. In fire fights, an in totally impossible missions we enjoyed our time with more laughter at our mistakes and doings more than at any other equal amount of time spent living life in any other setting.
Staff Sergeant McKnight went on to be a Sergeant Major, and I loved visiting with him after the war. He had a large family, but died early of an aneurism. His daughter called several years after his death when her mother died. She mentioned that her Dad did have a lot of problems with delayed stress and drinking, and she was just trying to figure out the story. I told her I did not just know him. He was my dear and most valued friend. I absolutely could never think of anything except total wonderful times with her Dad, and that all the fellows in our Platoon flat loved him. He was solid as a rock, and I'm sure all the guys who were with him felt that way